Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 123, Issue 4, pp 687–706 | Cite as

Strategic Leadership of Corporate Sustainability



Strategic leadership and corporate sustainability have recently come together in conspicuously explicit fashion through the emergence of top management team (TMT) positions with dedicated corporate sustainability responsibilities. These TMT positions, commonly referred to as “Chief Sustainability Officers,” have found their way into the upper echelons of many of the world’s largest corporations alongside more traditional TMT positions including the CEO and CFO. We explore this phenomenon and consider the following two questions: Why are corporate sustainability positions being installed to the TMT?What effects do corporate sustainability TMT positions have at their organizations? We consider these questions through strategic leadership and neoinstitutional theoretical frameworks. Through the latter, we also engage with Weberian considerations of bureaucracy. We find that the reasons why corporate sustainability TMT positions are installed can be in response to a crisis at the corporation for which its legitimacy is challenged. We also find the corporate sustainability TMT position can be installed proactively in an effort to realize external opportunities that may have otherwise gone unrealized without concerted attention and coordination afforded by a strategic level position. Regarding effects, we determine the position can relate to the establishment of bureaucratic structures dedicated to corporate sustainability within the corporation through which formalized processes and key performance indicators to drive corporate sustainability performances are established. In the face of our finding that many corporate sustainability TMT positions are being removed despite having only relatively recently been introduced to their respective TMTs, we find that the successful implementation of bureaucratic machinery can help considerations to sustainability extend beyond the tenure of a corporate sustainability position within the TMT.


Chief Sustainability Officer Strategic Leadership Corporate sustainability Top management team 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Copenhagen Business SchoolFrederiksbergDenmark

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